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The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Astroman


Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We at Joystiq believe no one deserves to starve, and many indie developers are entitled to a fridge full of tasty, fulfilling media coverage, right here. This week, Michael Stearns takes indie interplanetary with Astroman, a space platformer with a classic story and hard lessons on being too hard.

What's the coolest aspect of your game?

If I have to pick one favorite aspect, it's got to be the map. The game starts out as a straightforward platformer, but after the player recovers his space ship, he'll find himself back in space and the scope of the game becomes apparent. It's a very cool moment, the map isn't really an overworld map like most games have, it's a stylized planetary system and the player steers his ship through it, Asteroids-style. Power-ups that you pick up for your ship are visible on the ship and have a direct effect on where you can get to.

The music is another high point for me, it was all composed by our very talented friend Jeff Ball, and he's even put the whole soundtrack online for free at his site, and we don't want people to be shy about checking it out. To me, music is a really important part of the game experience, back in the SNES/Genesis era, I used to turn on games to get my groove on just as much as for any other reason, and Astroman's soundtrack upholds that tradition even better than I expected it to.

What's your game called and what's it about?

Our game is called Astroman and I'm not afraid to say it's about an astronaut lost in space trying to repair his space ship! I know that's awfully cliché, but I think we really made it our own. "We" being myself, Michael Stearns, and Daniel Roth. I did the art and he did the programming.

We were inspired in part by Metroid and in part by Commander Keen -- it's kind of a meld of our two backgrounds as fans of platformers. I grew up playing games on console, but Daniel grew up on the PC, so we tried to make a bit of a mix of that. The result is a game that's mostly platformer but with a bit of exploration that requires some sharp observation, and all old-school action.

Visually, something I really wanted to do was make a game that looked and felt "retro" but was also really lush and high-def. There are so many pixel-based games out there these days, and we're definitely fans, but it's hard to stand out against so many. We wanted to make something that would have some of that same feel, but would still be pretty unique and eye-catching.

How long did it take to create?

We worked on Astroman for around 5 or 6 months. I had the "good fortune" to be out of work at the time, so I could really throw myself into it. Daniel, meanwhile, had a rather demanding day job, so his programming time was more limited, and I had to be careful to budget my ideas into things he could get done fairly quickly. He had already done a huge amount of engine and editor programming before we started on the game itself, too.

Anything you'd do differently?

In retrospect, we would not have made it so difficult. When we first began testing, we got a lot of comments regarding the difficulty and at first I was so angry about it -- I really had a poor attitude about it at first. It was pretty humbling, and we made some easier modes but the game is still quite challenging, which is what we wanted the game to be like in the first place. Thankfully many people have finished and enjoyed the game, so I know we must have done all right!

Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?
I personally feel really underserved by the industry right now, and I know there are others who feel that way too, so I think independent developers ... are the only ones who can really tap into those smaller markets of discriminating gamers.

It's absolutely the freedom to make whatever you want. I personally feel really underserved by the industry right now, and I know there are others who feel that way too, so I think independent developers who aren't as affected by the pressure to succeed on huge scale are the only ones who can really tap into those smaller markets of discriminating gamers.

What's next?

Right after Astroman, I did some programming on my own and made a little pixel-styled platformer called Tiny Barbarian, and I'd like to do a follow up to that with a full-sized game. We're also working on a PC version of Astroman along with a patch for XBLIG, with a few tweaks and adjustments for difficulty. A lot of people have asked about a PC version so I'd hate to let them down!

Astroman is available now on XBLIG for 240 MS points -- don't orbit around buying this one for too long!

If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email jess [at] joystiq [dawt] com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.

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